Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)


The rate of STIs among sexually active teens is very high and very worrying.  For example, lots of sexually active young people are infected with Chlamydia, both males and females.  Chlamydia causes chronic pain and infertility in women (inability to have a child).  Unfortunately there are rarely any symptoms, so the damage is done before they know they have it and it keeps getting passed on from one sexual partner to another.  

Think about it this way.
If someone offered you a water bottle and told you 10 people had backwashed into it before you, would you have a drink?   That’s a bit like sexual contact with more than one person.  You’re leaving yourself open to every person they’ve been with and so on, right down the line.  That’s how STIs spread. 

Decisions about sex
Whether or not to get into sex is something to really think about – not just because of the risk of STIs, but because of pregnancy, abortion and emotional hurts.  There’s no such thing as casual sex.  People’s emotions and physical well being are always on the line.

Most teen magazines, movies and TV soaps give the impression that pretty much all teens are having sex.  Not true! By age 19 only half the teen population has had sexual intercourse.  If you are a virgin you are not alone - and you’re keeping safe. Saying No to sex as a teenager is a smart move.

Read on to find out more about STIs

What’s an STI?

STI stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection.  These are infections that are passed on through sexual contact.

They can range from minor irritations -

to the more serious ones -

In Australia the most common STIs are -

Less common diseases are -

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What problems can STIs cause?

Being infectious
Due to lack of symptoms males and females may unknowingly carry and transmit some STIs over many years. Some infections are passed from pregnant mother to baby,  eg: HIV, hepatitis B, herpes.

Infertility
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can lead to infection and scarring of the female reproductive system which can lead to ectopic pregnancy or prevent the woman from being able to have a baby.

Cervical Cancer
The genital wart virus (Human Papilloma Virus) is linked to the development of cancer of the cervix in women, especially when contracted at a young age.

A vaccine is now available which protects sexually active women against certain strains of HPV which are known to cause 7 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer and 9 out of 10 cases of genital warts.

Loss of life

How do you catch an STI?

You can catch an STI if you or your partner has had sex with someone who is infected. 

NOTE  that condom use does not protect from all STIs.

What do we mean by “having sex”?

“Having sex” is most commonly thought of as vaginal intercourse. STIs however, can also be caught from other sexual activity, including -

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What are the symptoms?

Many STIs have no symptoms, giving a false sense of security.  Symptoms that may indicate the presence of an STI are –

NOTE - it’s normal for women/girls to have some discharge (vaginal mucous), varying through the menstrual cycle from white and sticky to clear and moist.    
Thrush is a common infection causing a sticky discharge and itchiness.  It can be sexually transmitted, however, thrush can be contracted in other ways and is easily treated.

How do you avoid STIs?

Decisions about sex are important and can be for life.

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But what about condoms?  Do condoms provide safe sex?

Condoms provide some protection against some STIs because they are designed to prevent the mixing of bodily fluids (semen, blood, vaginal mucous).  For STIs that are passed on through skin contact eg: genital wart virus, herpes, syphilis and lice, condoms offer limited protection because skin surrounding the genital area can also be infected.

The ‘safe sex’ message promotes the use of condoms however condom failure rates in practice are highCondoms can break or come off allowing for pregnancy and passing on of disease. 

Condom failure rates are measured in terms of the number of pregnancies that occurred over a 12 month period despite using the method.  Pregnancy can occur on only a few days of a woman’s cycle but STIs can be passed on every day, so actual condom failure rates are therefore much higher than the official rate given.

Sex with condoms always involves risk.

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Explanation of Terms

Aids
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
Chlamydia
Serious bacterial infection of reproductive system. Often has no symptoms. Leading
cause of infertility.
Genital wart virus (HPV)
Virus that can cause warts in the genital area. Different to the warts you can get on your hands. No cure. Vaccine against some strains of HPV available. Condoms do not
protect against transmission as entire skin area around genitals can be infected. 
Gonorrhoea
Bacterial infection causing pain and a pus-like discharge. Can cause premature labour
and stillbirth in pregnant women. Condoms do not protect against transmission.
Hepatitis B
highly infectious virus, affects liver. Virus remains in body for life. Can affect babies of
pregnant women.
Herpes
Recurring viral infection that can cause painful blisters in genital area. Symptoms can
be treated but the disease cannot be cured. Condoms do not protect against transmission.
Can affect babies of pregnant women.
HIV
Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  This virus attacks the body cells and prevents them
fighting infection and can lead to AIDS. No cure.
PID
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.  A progressive infection that harms woman’s reproductive system leading to ectopic pregnancy, infertility and chronic pain.  Often caused by chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
Pubic lice(crabs)
similar to head lice but usually only found in pubic area. Condoms do not protect
against transmission.
Syphilis
Bacterial infection with progressive symptoms. First noticeable sign may be painless
sore. Untreated, can cause serious illness many years later. Can affect babies of
pregnant women.
Cervix
Connects the vagina and uterus (womb). Vulnerable to infection and cancer.
Ectopic pregnancy
Embryo which implants in the Fallopian tube rather than uterus.  With no room for the
pregnancy to continue to develop there is great danger to mother, and the embryo
cannot survive.
Infertility
Inability to have a child. There are many reasons for infertility - STIs is only one.
Semen
Fluid that carries sperm in males.

The ‘safest’ sex

Most teenagers are not sexually active. There are good reasons for this choice.
Having sex can complicate single relationships. You are free to choose to have more control of your sexual and emotional health. 
Remember

  • It’s OK to delay sexual activity. You don’t have to justify yourself.  Not everyone is ‘doing it’
  • Sex is worth waiting for, and so are you
  • Enjoy many friendships
  • You can have affectionate and fun times without having sex
  • Support each other and your friends in the decisions you have made
  • If someone puts the pressure on you they don’t care about you
  • Alcohol, drugs, and even your emotional state can affect your decision making
  • Have a support network of trusted adults you can talk to.

Sometimes we make mistakes about sex, especially if we are feeling down about something, or lonely and sad.  Sex can seem like a promise of love and affection but afterwards we can feel really let down and used and somehow lonelier than ever.  This emotional state can get in the way of making clear decisions and leave us open to risk. 

Need to talk?

  • if you are trying to make a choice and finding it difficult…
  • if you feel you may be at risk…
  • if you are affected by an abortion…
  • if you are having relationship difficulties...

……go to HELP on this website.

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